The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly by James Hampton

James Hampton

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, c.1950–64, Mixed media, Smithsonian American Art Museum; Gift of anonymous donors, 1970.353.1-.116, © James Hampton (orphaned work); Photo: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC / Art Resource, NY

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Found Glory

Over the course of fourteen years, James Hampton slowly and privately constructed what would prove to be his only major artistic work: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly. Hampton handcrafted The Throne from ‘found objects’: cardboard, plastic, discarded furniture, jelly jars and light bulbs, metallic foils, and purple paper (now faded to a light brown).

What might Hampton’s use of reclaimed and recycled ‘everyday’ objects help us see about Isaiah’s vision? How might ‘found art’ disclose a ‘found theology’: a theology of how the presence and glory of God is discovered in unfolding historical encounters (Quash 2013: xiv)? Much like the prophet Isaiah himself, these found objects, painfully ordinary, are taken up into a higher purpose, re-dressed, transformed, put to new work. The artist’s imagination and vision become like the seraph’s coal, both purifying and transforming the meaning and purpose of their objects.

The richness of Hampton’s vision lies precisely in the humility of its components; its humility is the source of its magnificence. Those who stand before it experience the glory of a God who humbles the proud and elevates and glorifies the humble. The collective components of The Throne, reworked by the artist, overwhelm the space in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, much like the robe of the LORD that fills the Temple in Isaiah’s vision (6:1).

Indeed, when The Throne was first discovered in that Washington DC garage, its glory exceeded the space, spilling out of its containment onto the sidewalk and the street, reminding us of Isaiah’s encounter with the glory of God which fills the entire earth (6:3).

The glory of God is ready to burst forth, finding and transforming ordinary people and common things. Hampton’s transforming vision raises the found to higher significance, similar to the way that Isaiah’s speech is not his own, but becomes a vessel for Yahweh’s voice. The found objects and the found prophet each offer up their own humble ‘Here I am—send me’.

 

References

Quash, Ben. 2013. Found Theology: History, Imagination, and the Holy Spirit (London: Bloomsbury)